Dear Editor,

Today I dropped my car keys in the sewer outside the new Big Lots store on Route 18.

I could see them glistening at the bottom where the rain waters from the last week were flowing, but they were at the bottom of a 5-foot deep drop and there was no way I could reach them. I was freezing and needed to be home on time for the school bus.

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The obvious choice after speaking with the manager at Big Lots (who couldn’t find a tool to help me and called the mall’s property managers to come) was to go to Harbor Freight and ask for their help with a tool. Who knew how long it would be before the maintenance people arrived? 

Harbor Freight couldn’t find a tool to “sell me” although someone was nice enough to come out to the parking lot with me and see the issue. I went into the Dollar Tree as a last resort, mainly to ask if they had that special metal hook that some retail stores have to help them hang up merchandise on high up pegs. There, the shoppers overheard me tell the cashier/manager, Diane, what had happened to me.

Diane is a petite, thin, soft-spoken woman, nothing like the brawny man I envisioned who had the solution I had been seeking. She asked another worker to give me “the grabber” to pull up my keys from the filthy abyss. I ran outside with it, excited to finally get into my warm Pacifica with the heated seats, but, alas, the grabber was way too short.

I ran back in to return the stick. A man shopping suggested that I use a string attached to a magnet. Diane sprung into action. She went to the shelves to get the supplies, a toy U magnet that had the perfect spot to tie a utility rope to. She carefully prepared the apparatus, being careful not to rip the tags off the magnet, so I wouldn’t have to end up paying for it (yes I was surprised that she was caring about my spending as well). She told the other cashier to cover for her while she stepped out to help me.
Twenty minutes later we were still laying on the floor near the sewer drain trying to work together to pull up my Keys.

Passers-by came to check on us. The spectacle of two grown women laying on the floor with their arms shoulder deep in the gutter grates was enough to draw people to the scene. So many people offered to help. A young man went to get a metal hanger he had in his car and worked hard to unbend it to a straight thin hook. Diane kept helping me, relentlessly, declining calls from home and focusing on the task. I don’t think she even felt how cold it was, coatless on the ground. Another man came to offer tape to perhaps get the keys to stick to it, but the keys were submerged in the accumulated rainwater.

We managed to pull the keys up 3/4 of the way, twice, before they fell back down. “Why don’t you call the fire department?” A woman asked. Diane said quietly “by the time they even get here we will get the keys up.” I liked Diane’s determination and complete calm confidence in our ability. Finally, another man said he had a very powerful magnet in his car. Seconds later he was back with a tiny circular magnet. It was so powerful that it stuck to the grates, and we couldn’t pry it off. Diane carefully used a utility knife to remove it from the grate. She kept it in her fist and dropped it beyond the grate, attached to the rope. This time, the heavy keys couldn’t withstand the pulling force. I had the grabber ready to snatch the keys off the magnet ,but Diane already had them safely in her palm.

The ordeal was over. I hugged Diane, my earthling sister for standing by me, through the cold and dirt, and helping me through to the end. The magnet man forced his powerful dot off the grate and disappeared before I could thank him. I walked back into the Dollar Tree to pay the $3 for the items we used. Diane rang me up herself, so I didn’t have to wait on line and be one more moment away from the comfort of my car or risk being late for my kids’ school bus.

My point for sharing this whole story?

You don’t set out to be someone’s hero when you leave your house in the morning. But you may suddenly find yourself being one, like Diane was to me. I am proud and lucky to live among people who help each other. It took a community of caring people to solve my little problem. And, boy, did my community deliver.


Suzy Bass